2. Outreach and Goal-Setting
3. Case Management / Coaching
4. Increasing Earnings
5. Building Financial Capability
6. FSS Infrastructure
The Family Self-Sufficiency Program, commonly known as FSS, helps families increase their earnings and build financial capability and assets.
The FSS program serves:
FSS is a voluntary program for families; a family can choose whether or not to participate in it. Some PHAs are required to offer an FSS program to satisfy a mandate tied to their receipt of housing assistance in earlier decades, while others run the program voluntarily. Owners of HUD-assisted multifamily developments can choose whether or not to participate.
As this video explains, the primary goal of FSS is to help participants make progress toward economic security.
FSS © 2017 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
FSS achieves this goal by helping families to increase their earnings and to build assets and financial capability. This training is designed to assist FSS programs in achieving these outcomes.
The FSS program seeks to help participants make measurable progress toward economic security so that they no longer need welfare programs, are less dependent on rental assistance, and are better able to achieve the goals they set out for themselves and plan for the future.
As this video explains, HUD does not require participants to leave subsidized housing in order to successfully complete the FSS program.
The FSS escrow account is a savings account that the PHA or owner maintains on behalf of the FSS participant. Participants build savings in an escrow account as their earnings increase.
How does the Escrow Account Work?
Families with a Housing Choice Voucher or living in public housing or a multifamily development with a project-based Section 8 contract generally pay rent based on a percentage of their income. When a family’s income rises, the amount the family must pay toward rent also rises. One of the great benefits of participating in FSS is the opportunity to recapture a portion of increased rent through the escrow account.
Deposits to the FSS escrow account occur when the household earnings of an FSS participant increase and lead to an increase in rent. Generally, when this happens, the PHA/owner will deposit an amount equal to the family’s increase in rent due to the increased earnings into the FSS escrow account. The escrow account thus allows FSS participants to build savings over time.
Watch this video for a general, high-level explanation of how escrow works and the benefits of having an escrow account.
How can FSS Participants Access the Money in their Escrow Accounts?
Once a family successfully graduates from FSS, they may access the escrow funds and use them for any purpose. The requirements for graduation are discussed later in this section.
FSS programs may also allow some earlier disbursements for specific purposes. These so-called “interim disbursements” of escrow are discussed in Chapter 5.
To achieve their individual goals, many participants will need access to services and educational programs. HUD does not fund services for FSS participants. Instead, HUD funds FSS program coordinators who work closely with FSS participants to help them access services available in the community – a function known as service coordination (see illustration). FSS program coordinators also assess the needs of FSS participants (or make referrals for specialized assessments related to health, education, family dynamics, and other issues), help participants set goals, and provide ongoing support and encouragement to help participants achieve their goals. Guidance on the role that FSS program coordinators play in supporting FSS participants, which is sometimes called “case management” or “coaching,” is provided in Chapter 2.
Common services that some FSS participants may need to achieve their goals include (click the arrows to expand the content):
Services to build financial capability
Other wrap-around services
An important feature of the FSS program is the establishment, by each participant, of a set of goals that they seek to achieve in the program. In order to graduate from FSS and receive the funds in their escrow account, FSS participants must establish and meet these goals.
While FSS participants may set additional goals, all FSS Participants must at a minimum agree to work toward the following two goals:
PHAs are responsible for determining what qualifies as suitable employment “based on the skills, education, and job training of the individual that has been designated the head of the FSS family, and based on the available job opportunities within the jurisdiction served by the PHA.”
In addition to the two main goals, residents can and should identify other goals.
FSS participants have five years to achieve their goals but can complete the program sooner if they have achieved their goals. If residents need more time to fully achieve their goals, they can request an extension of up to two years for good cause.
Good cause means “circumstances beyond the control of the FSS family, as determined by the PHA, such as serious illness or involuntary loss of employment.” 24 CFR §984.303(d)
There are many benefits of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program to residents and to your organization. Click the arrows to expand the content.
FSS programs help residents increase their economic security
The escrow account provides a financial incentive for participants to increase their earnings as well as a vehicle for participants to build savings.
FSS programs help residents build financial capability
While in FSS, participants can work on improving their credit, building savings, budgeting, strengthening their financial knowledge and accessing affordable and reliable financial products.
FSS programs help PHAs and owners serve more families in need
FSS helps some residents make the transition to unassisted housing, while helping others pay a larger share of the rent, reducing their subsidy needs. This frees up space within a public housing or project-based Section 8 development for other needy households and allows Housing Choice Voucher programs to offer vouchers to families on the waiting list.
FSS builds stronger relationships with residents
Residents appreciate being actively engaged in a forward-looking program designed to help them make progress toward economic security. As a result, FSS may decrease the incidence of nonpayment of rent, very short tenant stays, and resident-caused damage to units.
FSS builds goodwill between landlords and tenants
The participation of Housing Choice Voucher holders in FSS may give landlords more confidence in their suitability as tenants, facilitating voucher utilization and building goodwill with landlords.
Hear from other program coordinators and administrators in this video about the many benefits of the FSS Program.